Monday, 15 March 2010

What's In A Name?

What's in a name? Quite a lot, it seems. David Schuetz over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia (the Ecclesia in question is the Roman Catholic Church, of course, although David used to think together with the ecclesia known as the Lutheran Church of Australia) has objected to the use of the term 'Roman Catholic Church' and its handy shorthand abbreviation RCC in the comments section of his blog, and will presumably refuse to permit their usage from now on as a matter of policy.

Now, I suppose David is perfectly entitled to do so, as he 'owns' the blog, but this new policy does seem more than a little illiberal to me, especially for one whose blog masthead proclaims that he is 'always proposing, never imposing'. Why, I have even allowed some of David's own quite inflammatory comments directed at the Lutheran faith and my eternal future to remain on my blogs unedited. As far as my own policy on comments is concerned, I would prefer not to censor commentators, and to engage in dialogue, as time permits, and seek to propose, rather than impose, an agreeable alternative, and if agreement should prove elusive, finally accept that not everyone in the world thinks as I do (thank heavens!). Only if a comment was beyond the bounds of civility would I refuse to permit it.

And so I just can't understand the problem with 'Roman Catholic'. It is certainly not beyond the bounds of civility. Why, I note, the Roman Catholic Church even uses the term itself, as one can see here:

and here:

and here:

and here:

and it could go on, but you get the picture.

There is nothing inherently derogatory about the term, it is simply a neutral descriptor, and as the OED will confirm, it has for long been a standard term used in the Anglophone world to denominate the Church of Rome and those in communion with it from other church bodies which also claim catholicity.

Ah...perhaps that's the problem?


matthias said...

This is a bit of a tennis match at the moment with schutz making comment about the contrary article and you talking about the RCC,the RCC,the RCC - apologies to Past Elder . I think i shall refrain from commenting in this commbox as well,upon this subject

acroamaticus said...

I'll have to have a look, although it is such a silly thing I'm reluctant to waste too much time on it. If David is going to make this a condition of commenting, I will have to withdraw my participation on his blog, at least as far as this issue is concerned.

acroamaticus said...

Yes, Wayne, quite right about not commenting, discretion is ofttimes the better part of valour. I'm afraid I had a look though and couldn't resit a couple of comments that DS is likely to find incendiary. We'll see what the upshot is - the consensus at the moment from commenters seems to be that his request is 'a bridge too far'.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

How about Church of Rome. Or maybe Whore of Babylon, or Church of the Roman anti-christ.

acroamaticus said...

You may well mean this comment in a facetious way, MCB, but for the sake of understanding let's unpack those names.

Technically, MCB, the 'Church of Rome' is the diocese of Rome and I suppose, any attached dioceses round about it.

The 'Whore of Babylon' in Revelation is most probably a symbol for pagan Rome, rather than a local Christian church, although in as much as the Roman church in the West took over the imperial trappings of old Rome, it might still apply 'sensus plenior', in the fuller sense.

'Church of the Roman Anti-christ', of course, still applies if one takles the Lutheran confessions seriously - Sasse has a very good essay on why we should still take this seriously, by the way.

However, I doubt if many Lutherans would still be comfortable with that in an unqualified way. In so far as the Pope anathematises the Gospel, he is anti-Christ, but the question is, does he still anathematise the Gospel? At the moment, Lutherans come to different conclusions on that, and in any case it is not a part of saving faith to believe it.

Of course, we must remember that none of these epithets apply across the board to Roman Catholics, many of whom could be classed as evangelical Christians -i.e. Gospel-believing. Even Luther said that one could still find true Christians under the Pope because God in his mercy let's them keep the Word and sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

The presence of Christians in Rome and the strength of their faith will, of course, depend on how purely those means of grace are administered - which makes things like the return of the Latin Mass so problematic, not to mention the contiued use of sacrifical prayers in the canon of the mass. That is why it is good to be in dialogue with Roman Catholics, so that we may encourage reform in their church that will promote the Gospel, that they may be saved.

Will said...

As an Anglican I am a bit puzzled myself as to what is wrong with the term "Roman Catholic." I could see someone not liking "papist" or "Romish", both of which were used by Anglicans in the past to describe Roman Catholics. But the term "catholic", if that is what is sought, does not solely belong to Roman Catholics.

acroamaticus said...

Hi Will, thanks for dropping by. I must try and find out when the RCs adopted 'The Catholic Church in Australia' as their official name here, I'm sure it wasn't always thus, and it comes across to me as a bit of an ambit claim. But they can't copyright 'catholic', or 'Catholic' I would think. As even one RC commentator on David's list suggested, it is a bit of an affront to the rest of us. I also find it less than helpful to have 'Catholic' associated solely with a very human and fallible human institution, it could well render the word problematic over the longer term.